Producing all your clothing in the US, UK, and France, while pushing your 9 month old twins through the Garment District to factory visits and vendor meetings….! (fyi, this is a geeky post about where your clothing comes from...)
Sustainable = patience
It’s been nearly a year since I first sent around surveys to all of my friends and FB mom-groups asking for their pain-points and wishlists for maternity and breastfeeding clothing. And The Dress is only just getting ready ship to our first gorgeous mama customers. In addition to all the amazing support of friends and family, it has taken a team of nearly 2 dozen vendors to produce this single design!
When I began reaching out to factories to produce my designs for leSolstice I thought my years of producing clothing in China would have prepared me for exactly what to expect. To say I underestimated how much more complicated it would be is an understatement.
It was obvious that a brand created by moms for moms should care about sustainable production and ethical sourcing, but my previous experiences didn’t focus on ”sustainable manufacturing.” Bringing the twins with me turned out to be the least complicated part of the production! I was on maternity leave and still breastfeeding / pumping, so it just made sense to pop them in the stroller and have them join all the meetings. What was complicated was tracking down every component of a technically difficult design, testing and negotiating with dozens of small business owners, and then wrapping my head around much slower delivery estimates.
To break it down simply, two of the biggest challenges I encountered while producing The Dress in the US & UK were:
2. Supply Chain De-centralization
Time: i.e.“but could I pay you more to do it faster?"
One of my biggest frustrations in producing The Dress was the time between each stage of production. When I was producing clothing in China I could generally take a design to a factory and get the prototype sampled within 24 hours. I would go back to the factory for the 1st fitting, and then go back 24 hours later for the 2nd fitting, etc. Producing a small run of 200 garments would need less than a week, but I could get samples in a range of sizes over night. So this was my reference point when beginning negotiations with factories in London...
At my London factory I worked with a very talented pattern maker, Dymphna, on bringing my sketches of The Dress to life. I was shocked though when Dymphna told me it would take a week to make revisions between each fitting, and that it would probably take 2 weeks for the factory to make 3 samples (3 pieces, not 3 different designs!). I thought she was joking…she was not. I asked if I could pay a premium to get the samples sooner…I could not; she thought I was joking. We learned that American and British sarcasm are not the same language. No matter how much I reallllllly needed the samples sewn quicker I would just have to sit on my hands and wait.
One of the huge benefits of working with an independent pattern maker was having her expert input on the technical aspect of the design. I wanted The Dress to be flattering, functional, and incredibly versatile, and so I reached out to pattern makers who happened to also be mamas. And at my 3rd fitting Dympha told me she was expecting her 2nd baby! So she kindly agreed to try on The Dress and be another fit model!
Throughout the entire process I’ve had to drastically alter my expectations for how long production would take - labels took 3 weeks, the packaging took another 4 weeks, and the factory in New York that is sewing The Dress takes 6-8 weeks for production - that is after I could even sweet talk my way onto their very busy production schedule.
But being pregnant taught me the value of a long gestation period. I started to enjoy the “slow process;” looked forward to my weekly meetings with factory managers; and found joy in the incremental milestones (“yay, the collars have all been sewn!” “of course I want to come by and see the magnets being sewn in!”).
Stay tuned for Part 2!
The exciting adventure of buying fabric in Paris and tracking down clothing-safe magnets!